The Castel Felice ventured to Australia as an immigrant ship on a total of 101 voyages between 1952 and 1970, carrying over 100,000 immigrants to Australia and New Zealand. She was commanded by an Italian crew and carried passengers from many different countries including Italy, Germany and Britain. Many passengers remember the rough seas and shabby state of the aged ship with apprehension and delight.
Castel Felice passing down Port Phillip Bay towards the Heads as a small ferry travels from Queensliff to Sorrento, Victoria, 10 Feb 1969.Photographer: Dennis Mayor. Source: State Library of Victoria.
Dimensions: 493 x 64 ft (150.3 x 19.6 m)Registered Tonnage: 12,478 tons grossService Speed: 16 knotsPropulsion: Reduction geared steam turbines / twin screwsShipping Line: Sitmar Line (Società Italiana Transporti Marittima)
Originally named the Kenya, the immigrant ship Castel Felice began her life carrying passengers and cargo between India and Africa for the British-India Steam Navigation Co.
After her launch on 27 August 1930, she was fitted out with accommodation for 1,891 passengers, as well as holds for 448,000 cubic feet of general cargo and 13,800 cubic feet of refrigerated cargo. Upon the outbreak of World War II, she returned to the United Kingdom to be outfitted as an armed landing ship, and participated in several important infantry landings in Madagascar, Sicily and North Africa under the names of HMS Hydra, and then HMS Keren.
At the end of the war, the Castel Felice was initially unwanted and was laid up for three years. Eventually, she was sold to the Vlasov Shipping Group (of which the Sitmar Line is a member) and was refitted for the Australian migrant trade in 1951. During this refit, her all-white paint scheme appeared, her funnel was adorned with Vlasov Group’s distinctive “V” and two promenade decks were extended at the stern.
Hungarian refugees disembarking from the Castel Felice at Port Melbourne, 1957. Photographer: unknown. Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.
Before departing from Genoa on 6 October 1952 for her first journey to Australia, she was christened Castel Felice. She arrived in Melbourne on 7 November.
Between 1952 and 1955, the Castel Felice made only three voyages to Australia (but many to the Americas) before again being refurbished. The new refit offered many conveniences including a small number of first class cabins, air conditioning, a swimming pool and large public rooms. But for the tourist class, things were still cramped. Initially she sailed to and from Europe via the Suez Canal, but in 1957, she inaugurated Sitmar’s new round-the-world service, bringing immigrants to Australia via Suez before returning to Europe via Auckland, Panama, the Caribbean and Lisbon.
Mrs Elisabeth Etienne and Karin on the deck of the Castel Felice, coming from Munich to Melbourne, 1956. Photographer: unknown. Source: State Library of Victoria.
By the time the Castel Felice entered the Australian migrant trade at the age of 22, she was already an old ship. The refits conducted by the Sitmar line helped to improve her appearance and onboard conditions, however, as most of her passengers were government-assisted migrants, her accommodation remained very basic.
Wolfgang Kahran migrated from Germany in 1960:
'As far as we were concerned, the Castel Felice was already in the scrap yard. The crew tried their best, but the ship was unsteady. We were eight men in a double cabin – four tiered bunks! There were no luxuries for us.'
Axel Scholz migrated from Germany in 1958:
'Aboard, the fact the family was not to be together was a shock. My father and I were segregated to a lower deck. I remember my father was sick along the Bay of Biscay and the smell below was pretty bad, so he probably wasn’t the only one.'
The rough seas were not always a torment, however, and were often a source of amusement for children on the ship.
Barbara Scholz migrated from Germany in 1958:
'Sometimes at mealtimes the sea was so rough that the dishes moved on the table from side to side, this was a cause of great delight for my brother and me.'
After such a long and colourful life, the Castel Felice was retired at the end of 1970 as the Sitmar Line’s assisted immigration contract had come to an end. The Castel Felice, too, came to her end – bound for the shipbreakers in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
Baty, S. 1984. Ships That Passed – The Glorious Era of Travel to Australia and New Zealand. Reed Books Pty Ltd. Frenchs Forest.
Plowman, P. 1992. Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners. New South Wales University Press. Kensington.
Plowman, P. 2004. The Sitmar Liners – Past and Present. Rosenberg Publishing Pty Ltd. NSW.
The National Archives of Australia is the central repository for Australian Commonwealth Government records so you can contact them for the passenger list for your voyage - their website features online indexes to records in their collection, and can be searched by name, year and/or ship's name: www.naa.gov.au. You can also find photos of your ship at www.pictureaustralia.org, by entering "Castel Felice ship" as the search term.
Margie - thanks for your comment. Migration documents including shipping lists can be accessed via the website of the National Archives of Australia.
Hello Heidi. The Fairsea docked in Port Melbourne on June 12, 1954. Shipping lists for this and other voyages are held by the National Archives of Australia, who maintain a useful and informative website.
Hi there, Peter. Unfortunately, this index to outward passenger lists from the UK only extends to 1960, at this stage. Nevertheless, incoming passenger lists available from the National Archives of Australia almost always include both "from" and "to" ports - try their online RecordSearch tool or contact them directly to view the relevant list.
Klaus - passenger lists like the one you seek are looked after by the National Archives of Australia. Try using their RecordSearch tool to locate relevant documents, or else contact them directly for further information. Hope this helps!
Hi Carol and thanks for your query. The National Archives of Australia is the central repository for Australian Commonwealth Government records and holds information on naturalisation, military service and immigration, including passenger and crew lists. The National Archives website features online indexes to records in their collection, and can be searched by name, year and/or ship's name. To search for records online go to: www.naa.gov.au. If you cannot find the information you are after online, only 10 percent is digitised so far, I then suggest you contact the National Archives directly.
We love receiving comments, but can’t always respond.
Hi Hanna – Thank you for sharing your personal migration story with us. Immigration records and documentation relating migration to Australia in the twentieth century are held by the National Archives of Australia (NAA). You can search for such documents using the NAA's online RecordSearch tool and request copies of certain items. You can also contact the NAA directly for further assistance in searching for your own and your family’s records. If you do visit Melbourne in the next few years it would be lovely to see you here at the Immigration Museum!
Angie - see above for links to the website of the National Archives of Australia, which holds the shipping list you mention, and can provide a copy for you on request. They may also be able to provide other documents relating to your family's immigration, like migrant selection documents and/or naturalisation papers.
Hi Kevan - The National Archives of Australia is the central repository for Australian Commonwealth Government records so you can contact them for the passenger list and log for your voyage - their website features online indexes to records in their collection, and can be searched by name, year and/or ship's name. You can also find photos of your ship at Picture Australia by entering "Castel Felice ship" as the search term.
Hi Heather - You are most welcome to send your photo to us here at the Discovery Centre. Please read our donation guidelines before submitting your images. Thanks!
Hi Christine, the information we have in the Immigration Discovery Centre tends to focus on the migrant experience in Australia. Perhaps consider contacting the Museum in Bremerhaven, they may be able to provide you with further details about the hostel. http://www.historisches-museum-bremerhaven.de/index.php?id=37
Yes, Richard, lists of passengers were collected by the Australian government for all arrivals in this period. You can request copies of such documents from the National Archives of Australia.
Hi Naomie, search for your father's name on the National Archives of Australia, if you cannot find him, you will have to contact them directly.
Hi David,Thank you for sharing your wonderful story! If you are ever wanting to find the documents associated with your immigration to Australia, you can always try searching the National Archives of Australia, or you can visit the Immigration Museum Discovery Centre for assistance.
I'm a first generation Australian and I very grateful to the United Nations and Australian Government for helping my family to live a safe and relatively prosperous life here by paving the way for my parents to immigrate 60+ years ago. My Father, Julius Kaput, arrived in Australia as a 4-year old on the Dundalk Bay in 1949. My Mother, Julia Bayer, arrived as a 3-year old on the Castel Felice in November 1956. Her family record (many thanks to the National Archives) is here: BAYER Heinz born 4 September 1920; Ruth (nee Schneider) born 21 June 1922; Johannes born 14 April 1944; Anna Maira (sic) born 10 May 1947; Julia Rose born 2 April 1950 - German - travelled CASTEL FELICE in November 1956. Mum relishes telling and re-telling memories of her childhood and journey. For example, that she lived in a double-story home in a village in Germany which was next to a brook with resident frogs and passing deer passing. Imagine my surprise when we went on a trip together 40 years later, to find that she was able to navigate, unaided, to that very home, and find it the romantic place she'd described. Then put yourself in her shoes as the 3-year old that swapped that magical home for Bonegilla. Then, shortly afterwards, she was separated from her Father, a trained Chemist, who had to travel back down to Melbourne to find work as a Waiter. The family was reunited and established themselves in Parkville where her family grew with two younger brothers. It was a time of austerity measures, where choices had to be made between using either heating or tram tickets. Affording both was not an option. It was also a time of wearing hats and gloves, of using the outside toilet, of drinking fresh milk delivered in glass bottles via Melbourne laneways. Above all, it was a time of marrying young, so with Mum and Dad's similar immigration story, they seemed a natural fit. I wonder if anyone remembers the Bayer or Kaput families, either on the journey to Australia or on arrival. I would love to see old photos.
National Archives of Australia (NAA) is the central repository for Australian Commonwealth Government records and holds information on immigration, naturalisation and military service, as well as post 1923 passenger lists to Victoria.
It is important to note that only a small percentage of the material archived by the NAA can be found online. If you cannot find the records which you are seeking, please contact the NAA directly through their Making Australia Home project.
To Access National Archives Records Online:
Hello Viv - this is an interesting query, but as it's technically an emigration question rather than an immigration one. In your case, we think the best option would be for you to use the UK-based equivalent of the National Archives of Australia, which is simply called The National Archives. This website has a useful Research Guide on finding passenger records for migration to Britain, which helps in making use of the National Archive's online resources.
Good luck with your research!
One of the most useful resources to locate living people in Australia are the electoral rolls which list all the names and addresses of registered voters within Australia. Another avenue to explore would be to also check the white pages online by conducting a surname search. . For evidence of births, deaths and marriages, you will need to contact the relevant registry in an Australia state. Good luck with your search!
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